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Casino met by skeptics; Milford audience uneasy about plans.

Byline: Susan Spencer

MILFORD -- A proposed resort casino would likely have little negative impact on schools, the crime rate or problem gambling, according to Foxwoods and town consultants.

But not all residents were buying the rosy picture.

The social and economic impact studies, recently posted on the town's casino website, were the subject of a community meeting Wednesday night at Milford High School.

Foxwoods Massachusetts has proposed a $1 billion, 660,000-square-foot casino with a 350-bed hotel on Route 16 and Interstate 495. It is projected to draw more than 7 million visitors annually, or close to 20,000 a day.

Selectmen have not agreed yet to negotiate a host community agreement.

Selectman William D. Buckley, board chairman, said after the presentations: "With the influx of new people, at 7 million a year ... what's the risk aversion? Is it worth it?'' He said residents needed more clear, comprehensive information than what was presented by the consultants to evaluate what Milford would be like with a casino.

Caroline McCarthy, director at HR&A, an economic consulting firm hired by the town, said that town police, fire, schools and administration would require $2 million in one-time expenses plus $2.86 million in annual operating costs to offset the additional public safety and other public personnel and equipment demands related to the casino.

She said these costs, which were confirmed at the meeting by Deputy Police Chief James Heron and Fire Chief John Touhey, could be part of a host community agreement.

Ms. McCarthy said the proposed casino would bring the town an additional $20 million annually in property and hotel taxes.

Foxwoods consultant Steve Gallaway, from Gaming Market Advisors, said based on studies of casinos elsewhere, the crime rate would not increase as a result of the development. The raw number of crimes would go up, but with the increased population base, the rate would stay roughly even.

"You do have an increased number of petty crimes,'' Mr. Gallaway said, but those occurred on casino property, such as purse snatching.

He said alcohol-related fatalities in Connecticut have decreased 3.6 percent since 1986, and in Pennsylvania, decreased 4.3 percent since 2008.

Mr. Gallaway also presented a jobs study based on operations at Foxwoods' Connecticut operation, projecting the proposed casino would bring more than 3,100 new jobs with average pay ranging from $29,806, for line-level staff, to $189,331 for executive positions. Total average compensation including benefits would range from $47,819 to $220,793.

The vast majority of the positions would be filled from people living within a 30-minute commute, Mr. Gallaway said. He said the anticipated 168 employees relocating to the area would only add about 21 students to Milford schools.

In response to concerns about hiring illegal immigrants, he said that in addition to prohibiting hiring undocumented workers, "it's a Foxwoods policy that in order to be hired, you have to speak English.''

Mr. Gallaway and Kimberly Copp, from the town's consultants Shefsky & Froelich, said problem gambling affects between 2 percent and 3 percent of the population when a casino is within 50 miles. Given the proximity to existing casinos in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Ms. Copp said, they didn't expect increased problem gambling from a Milford casino.

Mr. Buckley asked Ms. Copp to find out what the prevalence of problem gambling is when a casino is within two miles.

In response to critical comments from the audience about Foxwoods and the consultants' role, Cezar M. Froelich, the town's lead consultant, said, "Our job is to give you the data.'' Mr. Froelich said the data could be used in structuring a host community agreement, if the town moved forward. Mr. Buckley said he anticipated Foxwoods' commitment, as presented to the community, to employ half of the currently unemployed people in town would be included in any host agreement negotiation.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Spencer, Susan
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 25, 2013
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